For DanceTabs, I reviewed two programs at NYCB, “Just for Fun” (Carnival of the Animals, Jeu de Cartes, and The Four Seasons), and “Tradition and Innovation” (Vespro, Duo Concertant, and Dances at a Gathering). Yes, the company has taken to “naming” its programs, and also to grouping them by theme, which I often find to be problematic–too much of a good thing, not enough contrast. But still, serendipity happens. The seasons’ single performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” turned out to be one of the freshest renditions I’ve seen in a long time. Tiler Peck, in particular, was ravishing as the “girl in pink” (see photo above).
Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals,” which the company hasn’t done for a while, turned out to be a be a bit of a disappointment. It’s flat, and tries too hard to be funny (without succeeding). But there are some lovely images, like this one, of a mermaid, danced here by the beautiful Lauren Lovette.
New York City Ballet held its fall gala on Thursday (Sept. 19), at which it introduced three collaborations between choreographers (Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Angelin Preljocaj) and designers (Prabal Gurung, Iris Van Herpen, Olivier Theyskens). The focus of the past few galas has fallen—thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s on the board—mainly on the fashion side, and less on the side of intriguing choreography. The three works had their merits, but all the fuss seemed to be about the costumes. It’s clear that the tactic is meant to attract and entice the gala patrons, who get two thrills for the price of one: new choreography, big-name designers. But one wonders if they really feel they are getting a good deal? The applause at galas is always on the polite side, so it’s hard to tell. The evening looked sold out. So much the better. But will these ballets merit viewing and re-viewing?
Overall, I found the ballet blander than I remembered. The pas de deux is lovely, with hints of danger and a slightly obsessive quality. Lauren Lovette, débuting in the “Julie Jordan” role at New York City Ballet, captured this sense of excessive abandon quite well. At first she seems frightened and tries to run away from this strange man who pursues her, but then she finds herself drawn in inexorably. Finally, she acquiesces entirely, running toward him and wrapping herself around him like a scarf, chest exposed, off balance, completely vulnerable. In her excessive self-exposure, “Julie” reminds me of Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass. A rather conventional swoony pas de deux follows, with the usual big lifts. The first part is more interesting, more uncomfortable. Why does the man grasp her forearms with such force, and why does she keep running back to him? Why does he leave her alone, defenseless, for a moment? Lovette, a dark beauty with sparkling eyes, was perhaps a touch too innocent, too sweet here. Her interpretation felt like an extension of her Maria, from West Side Story. But I’m sure she’ll find more nuances over time. I remember Peck having a strange sort of animal quality; at first she fought for her freedom, and then she seemed to give in to an urge that even she couldn’t quite understand.
But the main problem with the ballet is the Billy Bigelow part. In the musical, he’s depicted as an angry man with violent urges and a strong sexual energy. He’s damaged goods, but fatally attractive. But Wheeldon’s choreography for Billy gives him almost no chance to reveal himself. Billy comes across as more of a conventional romantic lead. For the most part, Wheeldon keeps him occupied with partnering, pulling, lifting, turning, catching the girl. Or standing apart, under a spotlight and watching her as concentric circles revolve around him. Finally, when he does dance alone, briefly, the choreography doesn’t give us a sense of who he is or what he represents. He performs a few jumps, some turns with his arms thrown out wide, and rushes about the stage with what looks like elation. Of course, it’s also true that there is absolutely nothing dark or dangerous about Robert Fairchild, who danced the role of Bigelow this afternoon. (In the recent New York Philharmonic production shown on Live from Lincoln Center it was equally hard to believe that Fairchild could be anything but a warm, lovely young man.) His dancing here had a lot of fervor but no real heat, and I do remember Woetzel having a bit more of an edge.
Wheeldon’s ensembles, which consist mainly of social dances and waltzes, interspersed with fluid, elegant lifts, are expertly handled, as are the big numbers, including a long diagonal of couples that rise up and fold down to the ground and roll away, like a wave. The carousel image, with the women raised on the men’s shoulders as if on horseback, is nice. As is the overall look of the ballet, suggesting a nocturnal outdoor dance pavilion, with two pretty garlands of colored lights hanging above. The costumes, stretchy summer dresses with panels in complementary colors (by Holly Hynes), flow beautifully as the women whirl. And I’ve always liked “Julie’s” yellow dress; the off-the shoulder straps expose her neck and upper back, making her look even more vulnerable, ripe for the picking.
I’m off to see Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel, A Dance,” set to music from the bleak Richard Rodgers Musical. I wonder how I’ll feel about it after not having seen it for a few years? I still remember Damian Woetzel and Tiler Peck in it. It was the first ballet in which I thought: “there’s more to this girl than pyrotechnics.” Today, the cast is led by Lauren Lovette and Robert Fairchild. Here’s the pdd, danced by Carla Körbes and Seth Orza:
American Ballet Theatre held its spring gala at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 13, kicking off the season. It included the usual mix of excerpts, but also full performances of Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Ratmansky’s Symphony No. 9. You can read my review for DanceTabs here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“[Students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and members of the Studio Company] performed…a charmingly formal demonstration of classroom technique (Cortège)… Each dancer had a moment to shine. The students’ port de bras, soft and beautifully shaped, was a particular pleasure. It was funny to see the contrast between this formal demonstration and what followed: a display of just how un-classical today’s dancers can be. I wonder if the faculty shielded the young dancers’ eyes as Ivan Vasiliev tore across the stage like a panther and planted himself behind Xiomara Reyes, placing his hands on her waist with workmanlike focus….Vasiliev is no paragon of elegance, that’s for sure, but his sheer exuberance, and the power of his jumps and lifts, makes him an undeniable presence onstage. No-one does an overhead lift like Vasiliev; he seems to want to propel his ballerina into the stratosphere. If he could dislocate his shoulder to get her even higher, he would.”
Here’s my latest for DanceTabs, a review of New York City Ballet’s spring gala, which included a new ballet, a pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon, and the revival of an older work, Soirée Musicale, as well as excerpts from Who Cares, Stars and Stripes, Glass Pieces, and West Side Story Suite.
And a short excerpt:
“Considering the many distinctive works Wheeldon has given this company over the years…a Wheeldon première inevitably brings raised expectations. His newest piece, A Place for Us, turns out to be an extended pas de deux for two of the company’s most musical dancers, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Both move with scintillating clarity mixed with a jazzy sense of all-American informality….In response to these qualities, Wheeldon has created a dance that has the feel of an improvisation, as well as an homage to the artful spontaneity cultivated by Jerome Robbins in works like Other Dances and A Suite of Dances.”
Questions, comments, and complaints welcome!
The company kicked off its spring season — a.k.a. the American Music Festival — on April 30, with an all-Balanchine program. (The date also marked the thirtieth anniversary of Balanchine’s death.) On the program: Who Cares?, Tarantella, Stars and Stripes, and the revival of that most mysterious ballet, Ivesiana (not performed since 2004). The cast of Ivesiana was mostly new, and included Ashley Laracey in her first big role since being promoted to soloist int the spring. And what a striking, chilling ballet it is. You can read my review (for DanceTabs) here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“Made in 1954 (the same year as Western Symphony, of all things) for a cast of dancers that included Janet Reed, Allegra Kent, Tanaquil LeClercq, Francisco Moncion, and Todd Bolender, Ivesiana is one of Balnachine’s simplest, and most unnerving, compositions. Four ideas, four sections, not many steps, and no pointe-work – except in the crazed third chapter, “In the Inn,” which is crammed to the gills with steps and performed on pointe…. The entire thing is steeped in an atsmophere of suffocating irresolution, of irratonal occurrences and otherworldliness.”
New York City closed its Tchaikovsky-themed winter season with two weeks of performances of Peter Martins’ staging of Sleeping Beauty. I always think of this this great classical ballet as a luminous example of the triumph of form. When all the elements come together—musical interpretation, sets and costumes, grandeur and detail in the dancing—I feel an irrepressible surge of emotion at its splendor. Watching its patterns unfold is like a visit to Vaux le Vicomte: how could something be so beautiful, so elegant, so harmoniously grand? Tchaikovsky’s music conveys this feeling with ardor and a kind of blind belief: the longing for things to be made right (just think of the cello solo in the Vision Scene), the lure of fantasy (think of the sparkle of the Bluebird pas de deux), the glorification of harmony (the horns in the wedding pas de deux), the delight of ensemble dancing (the irrepressible drive of the Garland Waltz). In Sleeping Beauty, one easily recognizes the antecedent to Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, and the luminous finale of Symphony in C.
Every balletomane has his or her ideal version of the ballet. I’m not sure I’ve yet seen mine, but in the absence of perfection, and despite some reservations (mainly about its rushed pace), I have great admiration for Peter Martins’ staging for New York City Ballet. The scenery, by David Mitchell, is really quite beautiful. Mitchell uses projections of châteaux and landscapes to create a sense of space, inviting the audience to envision the story from afar and then experience it from close at hand. I especially love the way the projections slowly pan out, in a series of still images, from the courtyard where Princess Aurora’s birthday celebrations take place to the exterior of the castle, the forest, and then the entire kingdom, with just a small spire in the distance to suggest the castle’s isolation from the world. Then we fly high above a long, meandering river to the forest where Prince Désiré cavorts half-heartedly with his guests. Like Tchaikovsky’s pulsing music at this point in the score, the voyage through space also suggests a voyage through time. The Prince’s hunting party occurs one hundred years after the original events, in a setting that evokes by Watteau’s Fêtes Galantes. Mitchell’s autumnal scene, with rust-colored foliage and a river glistening in the distance, is very handsome, as are Patricia Zipprodt’s deliciously detailed costumes. I especially love Aurora’s slightly faded white tutu in the wedding scene, with a fine chain extending from the bodice and around the upper arm, accentuating the épaules, one of the loveliest parts of a dancer’s anatomy. Zipprodt’s colors are muted and faintly “antique,” thankfully free of the garish Disney-quality so often used in fairy-tale productions.
The hunting scene, however, reveals one of the staging’s nagging problems: an unwillingness to allow the story to take the time it needs to build atmosphere. No sooner have the Prince’s companions arrived that they are sent scurrying off again. An entire scene, along with its mime and courtly dances, has been cut. The scene no longer makes sense, except as an elaborate excuse to introduce the Prince. (An expensive excuse, too, since the costumes in the scene are quite sumptuous.) Similarly, the fairies’ individual solos in the prologue, each of which is meant to embody a quality presented to the young princess as a gift, are danced at such a clip that meaning and cleanness of execution are inevitably sacrificed. The dancers do their best, but they look rushed and rather pained. It’s a shame, because these are wonderful little miniatures, each with its own quality and perfume.
Martins has left many passages of choreography untouched: the Rose Adagio, the Vision, Balanchine’s glorious Garland Dance (with its necklace of little girls threading through the patterns), Bluebird, the Wedding pas de deux. Martins’ fairy-tale divertissements—especially Little Red Riding Hood, featuring another little girl from the company school—are especially pleasing. Martins has a knack for character dances, especially those for children. I also admire his homage to Balanchine during the Wedding divertissements, a pas de quatre with jewel tones: Emerald, Ruby, Diamond, Gold. The third variation, for Diamond, is quite tricky, with its syncopated, accented music, to which he has set complex phrases of hops on point. I always look forward to it.
That said, the company doesn’t always dance Sleeping Beauty with the sparkle it deserves. The mime passages are rather vague, and the courtiers often look stiff and lost rather than noble and engaged. NYCB’s dancers are not trained to act, and the ballet’s extreme classicism can leave them looking rather exposed. For all these reasons, especially toward the beginning of the run the ballet didn’t quite cohere. Tiler Peck, who had been so wonderful in her début as Aurora a few years back, now looked like she was trying too hard to “sell” the character. Aurora isn’t really a character anyway, more like a series of essences: child-like charm, dreamy longing, womanly grandeur, joy.
But the Feb. 21 performance fulfilled the ballet’s promise. Perhaps, after a week-and-a-half of shows, the style had cohered. The conductor, Andrews Sill, brought out the lushness and colors of the score, and for the most part, did not rush, though the tempi remained brisk and bright. The lilting violin melody during Aurora’s wedding solo was particularly well played—bravo to the violinist. Sterling Hyltin’s Aurora was wonderfully fresh, skittish, delicate, and un-mannered, though she seemed a little bit nervous at first. Hyltin is one of the company’s most charming, feminine dancers. She has an innate sophistication and taste, but also a wonderful friskiness and light, happy jump. And she is appealingly free of airs, almost modest, despite the radiance of her dancing. Robert Fairchild, her Prince, danced with his usual ardor, to which he added a greater polish than I had ever seen from him. His partnering was, as always, devoted, impeccable.
There was an air of happiness onstage. Everyone seemed to be dancing his or her best. Lauren Lovette was a delicious Ruby, sensual and vivacious and lush. Ashley Laracey’s Fairy of Generosity was confident and lyrical, with gorgeously stretched lines. Teresa Reichlen, stepping in for Rebecca Krohn, radiated energy with her back, her head, her milky arms, one movement melting into the next. Lauren King, as Princess Florine, broke through her usual cheerful but slightly tense demeanor, arms fluttering, eyes engaged, chest and shoulders suggesting a fluttering heart. It was a charmed evening.
Shortly afterward, it was announced that eleven dancers had been promoted just as the performance was about to begin. Perhaps this explained some of the exuberance to be seen onstage. Hard work, form, perseverance, precision, belief: it all pays off. A brilliant way to finish the season.
Here is a list of the promotions:
From corps to soloist: Lauren King, Ashley Laracey’s, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley.
And from soloist to principal: Adrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay and Ask la Cour.
Here’s my review of Tuesday’s program at New York City Ballet, which featured the return of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and Peter Martins’ rarely performed Waltz Project.
And a short excerpt:
“I’m always surprised at how sexual Opus Jazz really is – remember, it was made in the fifties – especially the two middle sections, Statics and Passage for Two. In Statics, three guys hang out on a rooftop – denoted by a few chimneys outlined against a dark sky, by Ben Shahn – lunging and sliding, kicking and making fists. They’re gaming for a fight. The accompaniment is all percussion (by Robert Prince), drums and cowbells, thumping syncopations. Into this hotbed of male adolescent aimlessness saunters Georgina Pazcoguin, super-sexualized and over-confident, taunting them with her curves.”
On Sunday, at the New York City Ballet matinée, the company performed a mixed bill: Divertimento from ‘Baiser de la Fée,’ Tchaikosvky Pas de Deux, Bal de Couture, and Diamonds. As always, I was fascinated by Divertimento‘s ungraspable quality. It seems like one kind of ballet, but turns out to be something completely different. Its haunting ending makes you question everything you’ve seen before. Tiler Peck captures this transformation perfectly; she is able to transform herself, subtly, from country girl to spellbound woman, lost in a dream. You can see my review here.
Sara Mearns also performed, in Diamonds:
“Sara Mearns, back from an injury which had kept her off the stage for nine months, was in rare form, dancing with that special intensity that sets her apart from other ballerinas. One could almost hear her thoughts as she slowly zig-zagged across the stage toward her cavalier (Ask la Cour) at the start of their pas de deux. The deep arch in her back in the duet’s many backbends expressed enormous yearning; each unfolding of the leg was a momentous, slow, deliberate affair. “I am your queen, and I have suffered long.” Like a great opera singer, Mearns is able to sustain endless legato phrases, melodies that modulate and stretch and leave the viewer gasping for air.”